The sporting world learned who Vikings special-teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf was during the Monday Night Football against the Bears in Chicago. That’s what happens when the cameras catch an angry Mike Zimmer excoriating a member of his coaching staff on national television.
With the Vikings clinging to a 7-6 lead, kicker Dan Bailey made the mistake of letting all-pro return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson, a former Vikings player whose skills are well known here, get his hands on the ball coming out of halftime.
Seconds later, Patterson took that kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, turning the Vikings’ hard-earned momentum, and sending Zimmer seething toward Maalouf on the sideline.
It was an awkward moment, to say the least, Zimmer screaming until he was red in the face, then walking away in disgust. Not that Maalouf seemed to take it too personally.
“He’s a passionate guy,” Maalouf said. “I love his passion. There’s no grey (area) with him. I know what he likes; I know what he doesn’t like. I respect that.”
What was Maalouf think when he saw Zimmer barreling toward him on the sideline?
“Go talk to him,” Maalouf said. “I’m going to tell him exactly what’s going on. I don’t back down from anybody. I want to make sure he understands. I want to communicate with him. I think the communication part is extremely valuable. If he’s coming at me, I’m coming at him 100 percent to make sure he knows what the situation is and what’s going on. That’s really it. Nothing beyond that.”
While it seems like Maalouf has no issue communicating with Zimmer, the execution of his special-teams unit has left something to be desired over the past couple of weeks.
The Vikings beat the Lions two weeks ago despite having two punts blocked with the game. Fortunately, by then, the game was already well in hand. Against the Bears, not only did the Vikings allow Patterson to get loose, they also missed an extra point and struggled to cover punts.
“I think there’s a lot of hesitation from some of the young guys,” Maalouf said. “I think that’s probably the biggest emphasis that we’ve been making this week. You can kind of see that on film. There was a little bit of hesitation. We have to keep coaching up these young guys and keep improving.”
That improvement will be crucial in the coming weeks. Frankly, as good as the Vikings have been during their three-game winning streak this month, that success has come in spite of their play on special teams.
It’s unclear how much longer Zimmer will be willing to deal with those struggles. Asked recently whether the play on special teams was aging him, Zimmer replied, “Yes.”
Never a good sign.
In the meantime, Maalouf doesn’t plan to change his coaching style, opting for positive affirmation as a way to keep the overall confidence up. He referenced how the Vikings recovered a muffed punt shortly after allowing the kickoff return for a touchdown.
“You have to go to the next play, get the correction, kind of lift them up a little bit, and be like, ‘Look. Let’s get to the next play. The game’s not over,’ ” Maalouf said. “We made an important play the very next punt, and there’s going be more important plays to follow.”
As for the blowup on the sideline with Zimmer, Maalouf made it sound like water under the bridge at this point.
“I’ve worked for coaches like him for a long time, and I think that’s why I like being around him,” Maalouf said. “He’s going to help, too. He’s the first one to say, ‘OK, what do we need to do to get better? Do we need to use more veterans? Do we need to use this? Do we need more practice time?’ That’s the type of guy he is.”